Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Revelation 14:6-7

The above reading is one of the traditional readings for Reformation Sunday. Do you know why that is? Some say that a famous person that we know is in the above passage. Read the passage again and see if you can find the famous person. Did you figure out who the person might be? Did you find him or her?

Lutheranism has an interesting interpretation of this text. Within Lutheranism, some have held the angel mentioned above to be…Martin Luther. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. This is an old tradition as well.

John Bugenhagen (1485-1558), the pastor at Wittenberg during the time of Luther, believed this passage to be fulfilled in the famous reformer.[1] He understood Luther as the angel because the Reformer proclaimed the true and pure Gospel message. John Bugenhagen was not the only person to hold this position. C.F.W. Walther, the Missouri Synod’s first president, said this about the passage: “Luther is the only theologian who is prophesied in the Holy Scriptures. He is without any doubt the angel of whom Revelation 14:6 spoke.”[2] LCMS professor Paul Kretzmann echoed this same view in the 1920s with his commentary that included Revelation.[3]

However, not all Lutherans hold this position. Louis Brighton, St. Louis Seminary professor and commentator, does not even bring this up or reference it in his book on Revelation.[4] Mark Brighton, professor at Concordia Irvine, in his book on Revelation, does the same.[5] Siegbert Becker, a professor in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, sees this verse as partially fulfilled in the Lutheran Reformation, but says that the passage should not be seen as a direct prophecy pointing to Luther and only about him.[6]

As the anniversary of the Reformation soon dawns upon us, and as more special Lutheran anniversary dates emerge, this passage serves as a reminder of where we are to turn our focus. The identity of the angel ultimately does not matter but rather the message that it and Luther proclaimed. Both proclaimed the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, that He died and rose again for us. We focus on the message, not on the messenger.

While it is fine to focus on Luther this month, we can’t forget or lose sight of the one that Luther preached about and pointed to: Jesus Christ. The Reformation helped to bring the focus back on Jesus Christ and the grace that He gives freely through faith in Him. As we celebrate the Reformation movement, we can give thanks to God for sending faithful people like Martin Luther who boldly and faithfully proclaimed the message that Jesus died and rose again for sinners.

(Originally published in Emmaus Footprints, Vol. XIX, Number 3, October 2017)

[1] Matthew C. Harrison, At Home in the House of my Fathers (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), 334.

[2] Harrison, 333.

[3] Paul, E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 2 of New Testament (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1922), 631-32.

[4] Louis A. Brighton, Concordia Commentary, A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture: Revelation (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 376-386.

[5] Mark Brighton, Reformation Heritage Bible Commentary: Revelation (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2012), 174-180.

[6] Siegbert W. Becker, Revelation (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985), 222-223.